When ABCKO remastered the Rolling Stones catalog in 2002, one of the rock era's greatest catalogs finally received its due and it's been in a the midst of a renaissance ever since due to some nice reissues, a greater awareness of album cuts and the eclectic use of certain songs in Wes Anderson's movies. This may appear to be a foolish statement considering it's about the world's greatest rock n' roll band, but the Stones early years were often ignored and due to poor mastering and reluctance of record stores to carry older catalog, especially when Hot Rocks and More Hot Rocks were continual best sellers. This was an awakening for me as these songs were in full bloom on the remastered albums. It did not hurt that Steve Van Zandt was heralding their first four records at the same time on his Underground Garage show. Since then, there has been a greater consciousness of this early period. In 1965, Andrew Loog Oldham knew it was integral to capture the band on film and planned to release a documentary from footage filmed over a weekend tour in Ireland. The Beatles by this time has released A Hard Day's Night and Help and the Stones were set to make their mark. When filming completed, it premiered at a film festival the following year but remained unreleased until now. Grainy bootlegs have circulated for several years but it has often been a footnote in the band's history until now. Over the last few years, ABCKO rescued the footage and delicately and slowly began to restore it. Besides capturing a charming and youthful band just beginning to make their ascent to the rock n' roll throne, it houses the first professionally shot concert footage of the band.
ABCKO has put together a stunning package delivering a definitive view of the early live Stones career. While other films have been more notorious, maniacal and ego-filled, Charlie Is My Darling is the first to capture the Stones at the pinnacle of their youth as they head to Ireland for a tour. Back in 1965, the footage may have been seen as superfluous as it didn't have the comedic charm of the Beatles films but looking back on it nearly fifty years later, it's a astounding glance into the Stones before they became the rock n' roll machine. All five members provide interviews revealing innocence but more significantly, a naivety as well. I do not think any of them thought this would last forever. Brian Jones is stoic and solemn, Wyman discusses the pitfalls of fame, Watts ponders a life without the band and Jagger is poised and confident as if he was born this way. The charisma he exudes in the modern era many would assume came over time and perfecting the art of speaking, but even as a twenty-two year old rock star, he is greatly aware of not just his surroundings but the world as well. His insights into American culture are particularly spot-on. It's easy to have people sit down ten, twenty and fifty years after an event and look back, but Charlie Is My Darling captures the purity of the Rolling Stones and the primordial force of rock n' roll when it was truly dangerous like few documents ever could. In a post ABCKO world, the Rolling Stones heavily promoted each release, but became cagier. They had no problem making films, allowing books to be written and giving interviews, but it was all in the name of exhibition. They were the equivalent of a rock n' roll circus, whereas in 1965, the pandemonium happened around them rather than by them. The concert performances in Charlie are riveting. What get a first-hand look at the chaos that ensured when they would hit a concert stage. This was not flying fists to the air, or a roar
it was a revolution. There is no backing singers, no additional guitarists, no keyboard player and no horns. It is simply five men on a mission. The performance of "I'm Alright" is revelatory. Here's a band that I own every official studio album, live album and DVD along with dozens of bootlegs, but I'd never taken notice of this song before due to my dislike of Got Live If You Want It and the poor quality of bootlegs from this era. Here is a song and more importantly, a surging and leaping performance I will listen to with new eyes and ears. The Stones are marvelously unrefined and yet fully in command of their craft. They are not just a karaoke band but also one whose music boils in their blood.
In a day and age where everything imaginable is at our fingertips, it is hard to imagine a time when mystery reigned supreme. Music and film stars were not human, they were stars who soared across theatre screens and radio dials providing a sense of majesty to the humdrum existence of our daily lives. We would see the Beatles goofing onscreen, but we would not see them with a camera in their face as they desperately tried to find that groove that will set you free. In the newly restored cut of the Charlie Is My Darling we are able to witness the vociferous energy fans bring to a stage full of lost bluesmen turned into fierce rock band who perfectly amalgamated pop and the blues. However, even though this film contains the earliest professionally filmed footage of the Rolling Stones on a concert stage, it isn't the fan devotion, surreal surroundings or even the hypnotic concert performances that permeate, it's the behind-the-scenes look at the friendship of these five musicians and the partnership that would redefine rock n' roll. "Sittin' on a Fence" shows the mystical Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership in full bloom. Andrew Loog Oldham felt it was letting the audience too far into the mystery back in 1965 so it remained unseen until now. He wanted the world to see the Rolling Stones perform, travel and the showcase the chaos they were swept up in, but he was not ready to drop the curtain and show the potent and prevailing songwriting team. It is almost as if we are eavesdropping on history. "Sittin' on a Fence" is a cut recorded for Aftermath but it did not make the final cut. It debuted on Flowers in 1967 and appeared on a few other records but we witness its birth in Charlie Is My Darling and gives the song a wholly new perspective. Before the drugs, the ego and the machine, we peek into the partnership that has weathered more storms New England in the last fifty years. More magic is abound as the band sits in a room as Richards is strumming his guitar to "Tell Me" which Jagger sings along to, not to mention "Eight Days A Week" by the Beatles which they cheekily deliver with a wry smile. They are incomplete songs, but the campfire jam burns bright. These days, acts have to be accommodating and take their fans behind the curtain, but back in the 1960s, it was unheard of. I cannot underestimate how glorious this footage is.
The deluxe box contains both a DVD and BluRay, despite both discs containing the same features. Why I cannot quite say, but considering I do not have a portable BluRay, it did allow me to watch the three films for purposes of this review because I had a choice for both. If you are looking to buy the standalone, either will do. Despite a meticulous restoration process, whether or not you want the high definition disc will be subjective. A flabbergasting revelation is the 5.1 sound on the disc. I did not expect a 5.1 to be put together for anything that had remained unreleased for so long. While it cannot compare to modern documentaries and concert films, it is a welcome addition to the presentation of the film. One of the features on the discs is a look at the refurbishment of the film, which took close to three months as they painstakingly went through each reel of film to clean it up. What is important to note about the new release is that there are three versions of the film- the 2012 edit, the 1965 director cut and the 1965 producers cut. The longest and most definitive is the 2012 cut. Peter Whitehead directed the original film, which ran less than forty-minutes. The new cut has been put together with Mick Gochanour (who receives a director credit) while Nathan Punwar carefully re-edited the film, fleshed it out and give the audience nearly fifty years later a more hedonistic experience. While all three films appear to have been cleaned up, the 2012 cut is the main course. If anything, the inclusion of songwriting scenes and a fiery performance of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" give it the clear edge providing a truly illuminating look at a band who was one of the few who truly can say they transformed the world.
The Film Soundtrack and 1965 Live Album
There are two audio discs included with the box set, one is purely a soundtrack to the film with some of the more rip-roaring live tunes and including the backstage "Tell Me" off-the-cuff jam. It is a nice inclusion as it captures the band at their most raw and primal including a burn-the-house-down rendition of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" not available elsewhere or on the accompanying live disc. The real revelation is the Live in England 1965 disc. When the Rolling Stones left ABCKO in 1970, they became a band hell-bent on building their own unique brand. Because Allen Klein owned their masters and even their publishing, the band did little to promote past glories and instead galloped forward without ever taking a moment to look back. As a result, this very era of the band has largely gone undocumented. Their 1965 live album Got Live If You Want It was initially an American only release and was put out against the band's wishes. The performances within, which were touched up in the studio, do not find the band at their musical peak. Even without knowing about the touch-ups, something felt fraudulent about the release. It is viewed as a nonentity in their catalog. This is now remedied- Live in England 1965, despite being less than thirty-minutes, is the crown jewel of the Charlie
box set. The band tear through the opening of "Everybody Needs Someone To Love" and segues straight into "Pain In My Heart", the curling guitar chord of "The Last Time" sends shivers throughout the audience, while "Off the Hook" is garage-rock perfection. You have never heard the blues until you hear Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman guide the band through the gutters of Chicago on "Little Red Rooster". The rapid-fire performances capture an era of the band many are unaware of and its unedited inclusion here reminds us just how down and dirty the Rolling Stones were when they began.
Besides the films and live albums, the box also includes a 10-inch vinyl record of live material, a replica poster from 1965 Belfast performance, a 42-page collector's edition book including 14 never-before-seen photos, reprints of vintage newspaper and magazine articles about the band. Lastly, there are new essays by David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine and Glen Hansard, an Academy Awardwinning singer/songwriter of the Swell Season best known for the film Once.
There is no shortage of Rolling Stones merchandise this holiday season, but none is as eye opening as the Charlie Is My Darling box set. Much of the product currently available including Grrr! and the film Crossfire Hurricane contains previously released footage and songs. The brilliant official bootleg program (www.StonesArchive.com) offers live performances that have circulated before. This box set gives us a glimpse into the rocket ship ride of the Rolling Stones. Never before has their youthful energy been so charming and awe-inspiring. If you are merely looking for the film, the DVD or BluRay should suffice, but ABCKO has gone one-step above and created a box that should strongly be considered by all fans of the Rolling Stones. It is not cheap, but it is definitive with a DVD, a BlurRay, two CD's, a vinyl record, a poster and a book. In short with an influx of Rolling Stones merchandise flooding the market, the new Charlie Is My Darling box set is the must-have purchase for not just Rolling Stones fans but all music aficionados.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter